We try to heal—life goes on

Faith is what sets us apart from the greed that serves only the present. Resilience must come with informed thinking

This beautiful Nativity scene at San Beda Alabang chapel in 2019 was missed this year. (Photo by T. San Juan)
This beautiful Nativity scene at San Beda Alabang chapel in 2019 was missed this year. (Photo by T. San Juan)

It is a few hours before Christmas eve, still in the pandemic with confusing directives about quarantine that vary from city to city (kids allowed in the malls or not; seniors, supposedly on lockdown, are everywhere—depends on which urban border you cross). We’re still pretty much in a war zone against the virus and are supposed to be staying put, in quiet isolation, at home.

Yet this Christmas eve, I feel harassed, like many others, because the frenzy of the season is back—the usual pre-pandemic hassles.

I barely survived the SLEX traffic two days before Christmas.

Traffic is back with a vengeance, with added thrills—the swarm of bikes that makes you feel like you’re in an Alfred Hitchcock movie (Tippi Hedren, Google it). Yesterday, SLEX on the way to Sta. Rosa, Laguna, was an endless parking lot that made you wish you could tell Waze to shut up because it was confusing you. The mall at Nuvali, like malls everywhere, woke up from a pandemic-induced coma, so that one felt what was almost a culture shock upon seeing the vehicles filling up the parking lot.

I was right to assure entrepreneur friends that it would be hard to stop people from going out this holiday season. They would want to shop, dine out, meet up with friends, or just to get out of their homes, giving retail and the dining scene some business, perhaps not the old business volume but business nonetheless. (Many retail businesses are off their pre-pandemic targets by 50 or 60% but still fight a shutdown. Beauty clinics are off by only 30 or 20%—which can be explained only by presuming that people want to look presentable again even if only on Zoom.)

The banning of human interaction is the casualty of this pandemic. “How long can one go on without a human hug?”

People can’t be cooped up indefinitely. Prolonged lockdown, especially if confusing or mismanaged, is not sustainable. Even if the State has only their health and safety in mind, some senior citizens feel an amount of self-pity (profuse for some) because they’re not allowed to go out. To celebrate the 80th birthday of their mom, one family drove all the way to a tony restaurant in Tagaytay—away from the madding city crowd—only to be told at the door that seniors were not allowed.

Also in Tagaytay, our group passed up shopping in one store because one of us dutifully wrote 60 in the health protocol form. What’s wrong with 59, what’s wrong with lying about an extra year—we scolded the friend in jest. But then when we went instead to Taal Vista Lodge and had our coffee facing the thankfully serene lake, we all felt an afternoon’s dollop of freedom.

If one is an empty nester, the pandemic quarantine could be not only trying but also hurtful. A friend was asked to quarantine for days by his son if he wanted to see his apo—this, even if he himself hadn’t been going out. His son feared that his exposure to the help made him high-risk.

Communicating or reaching out this Christmas becomes an extra effort. A gift in itself is just being able to communicate with loved ones, or even friends, who are not mobile. It doesn’t help that the internet connection is spotty or that one has to step out for some signal if one’s home is a dead spot. (“Go up to the bubong!” a friend, who must have had Home Along the Riles in mind, had a smart idea.)

What do you do if your beloved mentor, a nun, is confined to her room, can only text (if it ever comes through) but can no longer chat on the phone because she is hard of hearing? Her case is not unique among the elderly, whose disability this pandemic particularly picks on.

The banning of human interaction is the casualty of this pandemic. “How long can one go on without a human hug?” asked a friend, who snuggles in bed with her three beloved dogs.

Video chats, Zoom could help see you through business and social networking, but they cannot carry you through life indefinitely, no matter how ingenious the virtual meets are.

BTS’ second youngest, V, candidly grieves in an interview about how much longer must he wait to perform— “I am getting older…” He’s only 26

BTS’ youngest, Jungkook, could be speaking for many as he longs for the group’s physical audience, indeed a mere human presence. With eyes misty and mouth hanging open, he sighs— “I want to perform so badly…” then somewhat miffed, adds, “Agh corona…” He actually stops himself from saying the S word. Then as the group fixes its stare at the TV screen watching their movie Break the Silence with the drone shot of the Olympic-stadium-sized crowds, Jungkook eyes the crowd that gathered last winter in Seoul and blurts out, “Miss the Army so much…I wonder the Armys who were there, how they’re doing now…,” as if the mob had faces he could connect to.

The BTS’ second youngest, V, candidly grieves in an interview about how much longer must he wait to perform before a live audience— “I am getting older…” He’s only 26.

Then the BTS’ leader RM concludes, as if to console the team, perhaps most of all, himself, “Someday we can meet soon, and give…hugs.”

And to think that BTS raised record revenues from their virtual concerts that saw a paying global audience of almost a million each concert. Yet even to these guys, young as they are, whom media (from Time to Wall Street Journal) unanimously consider a global force, no technology could supplant human interaction, especially a live audience of 80,000 whose cheers and waving of Army bombs could energize BTS through more than 20 heart-stopping numbers.

Last month, I started the virtual talk (TereTalks) to members of the St. Theresa’s College Alumnae Association by saying, “If you are logged on to this, congratulations! You know how to go online. You are ageless because you can use technology without having to beg your kid or grandkid.  If there’s a lesson this pandemic shoved into our face, it’s that if we can’t embrace technology, at least we must learn to live with it. Like an in-law you had no hand in choosing.”

Paranoia + prayer should help us get through each uncertain day

Allow me to excerpt from TereTalks on Navigating the New World: “This chat isn’t only about navigating the new world, it is, more urgently, also about saving Christmas, inserting Christmas—indeed Christ—into our new pandemic world.

“…. this virus that has upended our world in a blink didn’t respect bravery. Bravery, even courage wasn’t enough, it will not be enough. We need faith. Life as we knew it is gone, perhaps indefinitely. You can’t see a person’s smile, you see only the eyes, but even those eyes turn away if you look at them.

“In the restaurant, in the grocery, in the bank, you noticed, people have grown the habit of avoiding staring into each other’s eyes, as if doing so would pass on the virus. And when you do get to look at the eyes, they betray fear, anxiety. Your own hands you can’t even trust, because they could carry the virus. You disinfect yourself. Your own family you have to disinfect when they go out. My two sons who regularly go out—for work, not necessarily for lifestyle—I keep at arms’ length when I talk to them, and sometimes, I spray a disinfectant in their wake. They wail—’Ma, we’re not cockroaches.’”

We begin and end our day with paranoia. But this pandemic has also trained me to begin and end my day with prayer, the rosary, specifically. Paranoia + prayer should help us get through each uncertain day.

More excerpts: “Unlike Sr. Manuela Martinez, ICM, who turned 100 years old, and saw the aftermath of the first world war and survived World War II, we didn’t get to live through a world war. And yet this pandemic has stolen lives as if by random and robbed us of our chance to be with, or even see, the dying. Just like that—no visiting of the sick, no wakes, no public funerals.

“Do you know how it is to feel the passing of a loved one via a Messenger call?

“I did yesterday, as I was preparing for this talk. The caregiver of my dear friend pressed the call to me in panic and even if the caregiver couldn’t talk, I could overhear the commotion at the nurse’s station. I didn’t need to get a second call from the caregiver to confirm what I already felt—my close friend Louie Cruz, he of the off-the-shoulder fame, is gone— four hours before I could try to visit him in the hospital. Turned out, no visitors would have been allowed into the ICU.

Ironically, not knowing that he would be one such death, Louie Cruz would tell me repeatedly, ‘What’s so sad about this pandemic is that people die alone’

“Louie, who defined the Manila night scene and lifestyle, lost a two-year battle against cancer. Ironically, not knowing that he would be one such death, he’d tell me repeatedly, ‘What’s so sad about this pandemic is that people die alone or when people die, you say goodbye only on FB.’

“While this pandemic robbed us of so much, it forcibly gave us time to pause, stop in our fast-moving tracks, to look behind us and see our past, or to ponder the present. That’s all we can do because we now know that we don’t have full control of the future; limited control, yes.”

A friend, surprised because he didn’t even know until this week that his friend, the broadcast journalist Twink Macaraig had died, texted me, “How time flies! It’s the only thing we cannot earn more of than what is allotted.”

If there’s one good thing this pandemic has done to us, it is that it made us conscious of our time allocation on earth—and if we cannot make the most of it, at least we must appreciate it.

My TereTalks continued: “We derive strength from the good happy things of the past. Even learnings from them. That’s because now we have time and have been forced to pause and realize the things that matter to us and the people whose presence we are grateful for.

“How do we save Christmas or navigate the new world?

“By saving old friendships. We keep the ties that bind, or try to renew a bond even if it’s not easy. (By the way, it’s interesting to see in social media the many family Christmas greetings, showing families together again—‘But I thought they split up a long time ago,’ a catty friend said about a couple. ‘You mean they’re back after two centuries?’)”

(Here are videos of three friends who share how life has changed for them and their work, and how they navigate to an untested world: Steven Tan, president of SM Supermalls; Dr. Vicki Belo, whose name has become synonymous with the Filipino men and women’s beauty aspiration; and Ms. Margie Moran Floirendo, our 1973 Miss Universe, the beauty queen who’s put her fame to admirable use by being a hardworking advocate of culture and empowered womanhood.)

SM Supermalls president Steven Tan delivers Christmas message during TereTalks of the St. Theresa’s College Alumnae Association

Philippine beauty industry institution Dr. Vicki Belo gives Christmas message during TereTalks of the St. Theresa’s College Alumnae Association. She also gives advice on how to love yourself in this pandemic.

Margie Moran Floirendo gives Christmas message during TereTalks forum of St. Theresa’s Alumnae Association.

“We go back to the basic values of family and friends, and of looking out for each other, of loving and looking after oneself, and of turning to a Higher Being.

“Unlike before when we felt immune or invincible, today we face each morning with a strong sense of vulnerability. Fashion director Jackie Aquino could be speaking for many—‘Up to now I don’t have an answer except wake up each day and hope for the best.’

“Marketing expert Pen Roque told us, ‘Some call it the real normal. We adjust by realizing that going through this is not all smooth and easy but sometimes unpredictable and bumpy. But we respond to the reality knowing that this is all temporary, and learn how to relive life with families, friends, colleagues knowing that we’re not alone.’

“Health and beauty entrepreneur Marco Protacio resorts to routine to navigate the day to day: ‘I find that sticking to a routine and being kind to myself keeps me sane. I am already allowing some semblance of normalcy back into my life, like meeting friends and going to work. More importantly, being kind to others prevents me from feeling jaded about this crisis because I believe that our emotional well-being is just as important as our physical health. It’s extremely difficult to adjust to a situation wherein the new normal is indefinite and uncertain. It’s already exhausting. Therefore, we have no choice but to remain hopeful and prayerful. I really hope that this new normal will make the world a better place. I am forcing myself to accept that the old normal will not come back.’”

On top of the other freedoms the Filipino is fighting for, we now add freedom from hunger

While life as we knew it is not back this Christmas and will not be back in the near future, Filipinos are celebrating Christmas, even if only on social media, which they fire up—we remain the top social media users in the world.

Now more than ever, people are turned off by pretentious lifestyle because their focus is on healthy living, indeed on sheer survival. We can use empathy. We’re forced to downsize, declutter, set our priorities—spending on what are essentials and focusing on what and who is essential in our lives.

On top of the other freedoms the Filipino is fighting for, we now add freedom from hunger. Not even during our activism years in the ‘70s did we see so many people worry about where to get the next meal. After a locked-down economy and with unemployment an unprecedented high, people, especially the young ones, have lost their jobs or are working for less. You wonder what opportunities for growth or quality of life await our children and the new graduates.

This Christmas is about sheer survival. While people could escape the virus, how could many escape hunger?

From my TereTalks: “The pandemic proved that we sink or swim as one, like it or not. We can navigate to a new world only with the right sense of values. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the values I got at St. Theresa’s —the rigor of its academics, that forbearance, that love of hard work, the moral uprightness and the spirituality that seeped into our DNA—that saw me through a cutthroat career and environment that could be almost godless. For instance, I witnessed how her moral strength—no doubt her Theresian upbringing had a part in it—helped Letty Magsanoc in her fight for democracy.

“We can have all the technocrats’ policies in place but without a moral compass, they remain just that, a blueprint.

“While this pandemic enforced our love of family, it must also come with love of community and country. The Filipinos are by nature kind and compassionate, and nowhere has this been more evident than in this pandemic, when we bought each other’s home goodies, when those who have a little more gave to those who have nothing.

“But the pandemic also drove home the truth that bad governance could kill. So perhaps let’s restore the value of learning and informed, critical thinking, so that we don’t make dumb decisions and choices, so that we know when fake news is fake news and call it out, and so that we don’t stay quiet when our voice is needed.

“Our resilience must come from informed thinking.

“And the ultimate path we take to the new world is that of faith. Faith in God. Faith in a Being higher than ourselves. Faith is what sets us apart from the greed that serves only the present. Faith is what gives us hope and strength.

“Faith is also joy. It is our faith in Jesus that gives us the joy of Christmas.”

As the BTS sing in their world-famous song of the pandemic—Life goes on.

My son is playing his video game in the den even as I write this, and I hear what sounds like zombies ripping off human flesh and heavy guns blazing. I want to tell him to keep it down before I get a heart attack—but then I remember, I just had Cebu lechon.

Beyond the virus and the physical, especially for those who are hurting, let this be a healing Christmas and New Year.

Who would have known that the Christmas dinners of 2019 would not be repeated this year, perhaps not in a long time? Scarlet Snow Belo-Kho and Paolo Guidicelli were around past their bedtime in the 2019 dinner hosted by Virgie Ramos of Swatch.In 2019 Christmas, foremost retail leader Virgie Ramos with, from left, Jappy Gonzalez, Philip Cuazon, Gino GonzalesIn 2019 Christmas, Ben Chan (2nd from right, back row) gathered friends in his home, as he does every year, not knowing that this annual reunion would be discontinued this year. 1st row, from left, Tessa Valdes, Melba Solidum, Carol Garcia, the author, Menchu Soriano, Millet Mananquil; 2nd row, seated, from left, Dr. Vicki Belo, Tina Cuevas, Rep. Lucy Gomez; 3rd row, from left, Chan, Small Laude, Alice Eduardo, Ramon Antonio, Dr. Hayden KhoDerek Ramsay chats with Scarlet Snow, as Dr. Vicki Belo listens, during the 2019 Swatch dinner.A visual memory from 2019 Christmas (Photo by T. San Juan)Social interaction is a pandemic casualty. The author's (3rd from right) Christmas dinner with her friends in 2019: from left, Jackie Aquino, Annie Ringor, Pen Roque, Marco Protacio, Randy Ortiz
About author


After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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